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Hochul presses for alcohol to-go law and other steps to help the struggling restaurant industry

Sway Quinto cooks in the kitchen at Gotham restaurant on Tuesday, Dec. 14, 2021, in New York.
Brittainy Newman
Associated Press
Sway Quinto cooks in the kitchen at Gotham restaurant on Tuesday, Dec. 14, 2021, in New York.

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul on Wednesday highlighted a new law that would help struggling restaurants and bars by making it easier for establishments to obtain temporary liquor licenses.

She also promoted her proposal to reauthorize the alcohol-to-go program, which was very popular during COVID-19 pandemic-related lockdowns.

Hochul spoke at the Brooklyn-based Therapy Wine Bar 2.0, which struggled to obtain a temporary liquor license when it opened during the pandemic.

“It’s 5 o'clock somewhere,” she said to laughter.

Hochul said she also wants to invest money in the state Liquor Authority to deal with more than 3,700 pending applications. The governor said her budget proposal includes $2 million to hire 39 more employees, 30 of them dedicated exclusively to dealing with the backlog.

Hochul said that for the first time, restaurant and bar owners will be able to apply for liquor licenses online, something she said is long overdue.

“Kind of a radical concept, I know,” she joked. “I'm kind of going out there on a limb, but they have not had the resources to build the infrastructure, to do what they wanted to do.”

State Liquor Authority Chair Vincent Bradley said it now takes an average of six months to obtain a temporary liquor license. He said that’s far too long.

“It should not take more than 20 or 25 days (to get a license),” Bradley said.

Bradley said he will also be examining hundreds of laws enacted during the Prohibition era that have remained on the books even if they have long outlived their usefulness.

The governor, in her budget, is proposing that patrons be able to order drinks to go along with their takeout or delivery food orders. The practice was authorized through an emergency act at the height of the pandemic but has since lapsed.

“Who would have thought that this would be the most popular item in my entire budget?” Hochul said. “I've got $10 billion for health care and education, $31 billion, $32.8 billion for infrastructure. We've got all these great projects, but the one thing that went viral was to-go drinks. You got to love New York, right?”

Hochul admits there is opposition to the measure from the liquor industry. The Legislature would need to approve the proposal before it can become law. And she said if it is approved, the Liquor Authority will issue regulations aimed at keeping alcohol out of the hands of underage people.

The governor said she also wants to make outdoor dining, begun during the pandemic, a permanent fixture and provide funds for restaurants who invested in outdoor seating fixtures and space heaters.

Hochul’s actions were praised by the state’s Business Council, as well as the state’s restaurant and hospitality associations, saying it’s “smart” policy to help a devastated industry.

The governor’s event comes as a new law to allow theaters to serve alcoholic drinks takes effect on Friday.

Karen has covered state government and politics for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 New York and Connecticut stations, since 1990. She is also a regular contributor to the statewide public television program about New York State government, New York Now. She appears on the reporter’s roundtable segment, and interviews newsmakers.